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Invisible design

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Late Steve Jobs once remarked about design,

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

A lot of people repeat it, but do they really know what they are talking? Specially in today’s IT corporate filled with phony jargons like “innovtion”, “cutting edge”, “out of the box”, etc. coming specially from the most rigid (always thinking inside the box) guys from the top management.

Well, pet peeves apart.

Coming to the point, why am I writing this post today? Because, its been long since I wrote and I have been meaning to resume blogging lately. And today, when I completed a critical ‘invisible design’ as a part of a mobile app I am developing, I thought its worth sharing.

A part of the app that I am developing involves uploading large files from mobiles. Large files, low upload speed phones#, low bandwidth, spotty data connections on mobiles, failed uploads, restarted uploads, etc. sounds a ring? Well, the straightforward and naive way to do that would have been to ask the user to chose a file and try to upload it. If anything fails, just tell the user and let him take a call or just silently restart (from scratch) the upload when data connection is available. Well, what if it fails again? How many times the user driven or the automatic restart will happen? Will the large file ever get uploaded?

#Most mobile phones, including smartphones usually have low upload speeds as compared to download speeds. Even in most middle end phones with the so called 3G speeds, they only mean high download speeds (HSDPA) and not upload speeds (HSUPA)

If upload does not sound a ring, then think download. What if your torrent downloaders did not offer resuming of a download and only allows restart (from scratch) of the download ? Will your favorite movie ever download if your connection is spotty, or your router SNR is high, or the router had a power cut, etc.? Did you ever observe that ‘ordinary’ (taken for granted) thing? Ask older (1970’s and 80’s) folks from the computers world, they will tell you how dowloaders worked back then.

You can say that is a feature (developers will say architecture) of the torrent software, but I say its design too.

Now think of a solution to that upload from mobile problem, wherein the client (the mobile app) uploads the data in small chunks and both client as well as server (where files are uploaded) are stateful with regards to the amount (chunks) of data uploaded. If the data connection drops somewhere, the client can communicate and negotiate with the server on where to resume the interrupted upload. That saves the trouble of manual or automatic restart, saves resources, time and simply get’s the job done. But do you ever observe such ‘ordinary’ things (which just get the job done), besides the user interface bells and whistles, in apps that you use? I guess not.

No, I am not showcasing any innovation, the concept of chunked upload is very much existent and referred with the same name in the tech industry, ‘chunked uploads’, but its like talked a lot, implemented a little. The point that I am trying to make today is that there is much beyond what you see in an object (specifically app/site) that you use, which makes your life simple. Observe it!!

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Hat tip for developers: Empathize, eat your own dog food, sink yourself in your end-users’ shoes and see what they see, feel what they feel, you will understand the deeper meaning of design, specially the invisible one, and you will start making better software (I am hopeful that you are making good software already, you just need to make it better).

P.S.: I am thinking to release the chunked uploads Android app code (Java) and server code (Python/Django) as an open source code on github soon, *if I get enough free time*.

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Lessons from Steve Jobs – as noted by Guy Kawasaki

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

1. Experts are clueless, especially people who declare themselves experts. They cannot help you as entrepreneurs They are going to tell you to do better sameness, to do what everybody else is right. They are going to tell you their point of view, often from a very arrogant point of view. Usually they are disconnected from customers. Steve Jobs did not listen to experts, on the contrary the experts listened to him. Instead of listening to the pronunciation and interpretation of experts, its much easier to listen to customers themselves using social media. You meet someone who calls himself a guru or an expert, that’s the person to avoid. As an entrepreneur, you have to figure things out for yourself.

2. Customers cannot tell you what they need. Focus groups just don’t work.

3. Biggest challenges beget the best work. Instead of byte sized chunks, give your employees and co-founders the biggest challenges. People rise up to challenges and it brings the best out of them.

4. Design counts. Lot’s of people care about design. Experts will tell you about price, demand, blah. It’s lot easier to enchant people with great stuff rather than crap. Even if the population is 10% only.

5. In presentations: big graphics, big font. Steve used to do one word slides with 60pt font.

6. Jump curves, not better sameness.

7. Something “works” or “doesn’t works” is all that matters. – change/pivot based on what works. Don’t be stuck with fads and religion. Initial offering of an iphone was – only the 3rd party apps that were safari plugins – then shift. six months later – great 3rd party apps – open system. – reversed

8. “Value” is different from “price” – Steve proved – there are class of people who perceive value more than price.
Uniqueness Vs Value (2x2 matrix)

9. Hire A players. Hire people better than you. Engineers – don’t think management, finance, etc. is easy – don’t think like that. Take pride in saying that I hired someone who is better than me in finance/marketing/…

10. Real CEO’s can demo.

12. Real entrepreneurs ship and not slip. Don’t worry, be crappy. When you have jumped curves, the first version can be crappy. It can be a piece of crap but it has to be a revolutionary piece of crap. Don’t ship crap, ship something that has jumped curves which can have elements of crappiness to it.

13. Some things need to be believed to be seen. – voila – u always heard it the other way round, right? You will have to belive, ship and then let it be seen. If you want proof, it will never happen.

What makes a silicon valley?

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I have been pondering over the fact that India has a huge talent pool, in terms of number, brainz and quality, to match any country. It does not have the right ecosystem to engage this talent pool within the country, most of them decide to go abroad and sell their talent as service to big companies or start technology companies abroad, not here. They do come to India for getting a cheap but quality work done (building products in development offices in India and maintaining corporate offices abroad).
Hence they do use their talent, but not to create a hub of talent, innovation(real not the marketing gimmick) and intellectual property in India, why?
How can we create a self sustainable ecosystem here in India, so that this huge pool of talent creates value here?

Well, I have my own thoughts and after thoughts on this, which I shall compile and share on this blog some other time.

Today I am sharing a similar perspective (to mine) by Dr. Vinton Cerf,Vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google.

The following is an excerpt from one of his speeches.

Tony Blair, prime minister UK, came to the silicon valley on invitation from Cisco, in the summer 2007. His ostensible reason for showing up was to try to figure out whether there was any way to re-create a silicon valley in England. He was talking this and about education, etc. Speech finished and the attendees were all silent for a while, then Steve Jobs spoke up – “one thing that we all have experienced is that we all have failed one time or another”.

Now that was an insightful comment. For it brings out the fact that “failure” does not bring a red cane mark on one’s forehead marking him as “a failure for live” and that “failure is acceptable” in the US. It is treated more like and experience rather than a sin or a sign of in capability. Unlike in the Europe or India/Asia (I am adding India/Asia from my side coz the argument is valid) where failure is treated like a sin and one is marked as a incapable man if he fails. He is asked to take safe options and avert taking risk. Of course if you fail regularly then its a different story altogether.

We are also fortunate here in the Silicon valley to have such a strong source of educated workers. There is a continuous influx of educated and skilled people, from the colleges around, to fit in jobs in the Valley’s enterprises. We also have liquid market (we had, but its picking up again).

For being successful a market has to allow public investments, not requiring VC’s for the funding all the way. Though VC’s are the one’s who put in a lot at the onset, taking calculated risks for rewarding returns. Venture capitalists were not common in Europe, rather risk averting banks feared to lend money for new ventures. This hinders creation of new businesses.

We also have a talent pool that is very fluid in the sense that they can shift from one business to another and it does so. In Europe it is less so. Everybody knows everybody else here, either you worked together, worked for the other or he worked for you. So people are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

One last point is what is refered to as “cargo cults”.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

The most widely known period of cargo cult activity, however, was in the years during and after World War II. First, the Japanese arrived with a great deal of unknown equipment, and later, Allied forces also used the islands in the same way. The vast amounts of war materiel that were air dropped onto these islands during the Pacific campaign between the Allies and the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen Westerners or Easterners before. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons, and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers. Some of it was shared with the islanders who were their guides and hosts. With the end of the war, the airbases were abandoned, and cargo was no longer dropped.

In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.

In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and created new military-style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, although these practices did not bring about the return of the airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating most of the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.[citation needed]


The Countries that don’t understand the dynamics and the environment that has to be in place to create a silicon valley and to sustain it. They put industrial parks, they put buildings together, they provide power and all the other stuff and then they ask the companies to come in and populate these shells. The problem is that these are just like those cargo shells, it is an empty shell and until you have all the other desiderata to keep this economic engine going, it just doesn’t work without them. So you can’t just build a shell, an industrial base, you have to have all the other pieces working together like an engine and its parts. But it turns out to be much harder a fact for some policy makers to understand.

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I think Dr. Vinton (or “Vint” as he likes to be called) has made a solid point. I saw his speech (video) at Stanford Ecorner and found it resonating. There might be (and are) many other aspects that determine the growth of such an ecosystem but this post is not meant to touch on those, this was just to bring out a thought that it did.

More on this and my own thoughts and after thoughts on this topic shall appear within the next few postings.

Till then, think different.

JV

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